Section 3: Accuracy
Avoiding Misleading Audiences
We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content. We may need to clarify the nature of some content by labeling (for example, verbally, in text or with visual or audio cues) to avoid being misleading.
We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.
When quoting an anonymous source, especially a source making serious allegations, we must take all appropriate steps to protect their identity. However, we should give the audience what information we can about them and in a way that does not materially mislead about the source's status.
Whenever a story originated by the BBC involves an anonymous source, the relevant editor has the right to be told their identity. In cases involving serious allegations we should resist any attempt by an anonymous source to prevent their identity being revealed to a senior BBC editor. If this happens, the reporter should make it clear that the information obtained confidentially may not be broadcast.
Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation or to grant anonymity to a significant contributor must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice. We will need to consider:
- whether the story is of significant public interest
- whether the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
- any legal issues
(See Section 18 The Law)
- safety concerns, for example for whistleblowers
- whether a response to serious allegations has been sought from the people or organisations concerned
- sensitive and personal issues
- whether the serious allegation was made or substantiated "off the record".
We should script carefully the reporting of allegations made by an anonymous source to explain:
- the nature of the allegation
- that the allegation is being made by an anonymous source and not the BBC.
When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.
We should not normally use live unscripted two-ways to report allegations. It must be the editor's decision as to whether they are an appropriate way to break a story. When BBC colleagues follow up a story they must ensure they understand the terms in which the allegations are to be reported and do so accurately.
Online Links to Third Party Websites
Links from BBC Online to third party websites should normally lead to sites which are factually accurate. We may link to external sites which give particular views of a person or organisation significant to a current news story and in such cases we may not be able to guarantee their factual accuracy. But we should not support the message, information or promotions on third party sites.
There are very few recorded programmes that do not involve some intervention from the production team, but there are acceptable and unacceptable production techniques. Consideration should be given to the intention and effect of any intervention. It is normally acceptable to use techniques that augment content in a simple and straightforward way, for example by improving clarity and flow or making content more engaging. This may include craft skills such as some cutaway shots, set-up shots to establish interviewees and asking contributors to repeat insignificant actions or perform an everyday activity. It is usually unacceptable to use production techniques that materially mislead the audience about the reality of the narrative or events.
For news and factual content, unless clearly signalled to the audience or using reconstructions, we should not normally:
- stage or re-stage action or events which are significant to the development of the action or narrative
- inter-cut shots and sequences to suggest they were happening at the same time, if the resulting juxtaposition of material leads to a misleading impression of events.
Commentary and editing must never be used to give the audience a materially misleading impression of events or a contribution.
We should ensure that any digital creation or manipulation of material, including the use of CGI or other production techniques to create scenes or characters, does not distort the meaning of events, alter the impact of genuine material or otherwise materially mislead our audiences. We should also be aware that digital manipulation of photographs, video and documents has been used to hoax broadcasters.
In factual programmes reconstructions should not over dramatise in a misleading or sensationalist way. Reconstructions are when events are quite explicitly re-staged. They should normally be based on a substantial and verifiable body of evidence. They should also be identifiable as reconstructions, for example by using verbal or visual labelling or visual or audio cues, such as slow motion or grading. It should also be obvious to the audience where a reconstruction begins and ends.
News programmes should not normally stage reconstructions of current events because of the risk of confusing the audience. But reconstructions staged by others may be reported.
Factually Based Drama
When a drama portrays real people or events, it is inevitable that the creative realisation of some dramatic elements such as characterisation, dialogue and atmosphere may be fictional. However, the portrayal should be based on a substantial and well-sourced body of evidence whenever practicable and we should ensure it does not distort the known facts, including chronology, unduly. It is important to explain the drama's factual basis (or use of dramatic licence) with clear signposting.
Sensitivities will often be at their highest when a drama has, as its central purpose, the portrayal of living people, people with living close relatives or recent events. Particular care should be taken to achieve due accuracy.
Archive material should not be used in a way that materially misleads the audience about a situation, events or what is being depicted. Labelling may be required.
Reporting Statistics and Risks
We should report statistics and risks in context and avoid worrying the audience unduly, especially about health or crime. This may involve giving trends, taking care to avoid giving figures more weight than can stand scrutiny. If reporting a change, consideration should be given to making the baseline figure clear. For example, a doubling of a problem affecting one in two million people will still only affect one in a million. It will usually be appropriate to report the source of figures, and sometimes the margin of error, to enable people to judge their significance.
We should consider the emotional impact pictures and personal testimony can have on perceptions of risk when not supported by the balance of argument. If a contributor's view is contrary to majority opinion, the demands of due accuracy and due impartiality may require us to make this clear.
(See Guidance: Reporting Risk)